Togo tensions rise as police break up opposition eventWed, 27 Mar 2024 19:50:16 GMT

Political tension mounted in Togo on Wednesday as police broke up an opposition news conference amid backlash over a constitutional reform criticised as a power grab.The West African country’s parliament voted for the new constitution on Monday, switching from a presidential to a parliamentary system.With less than a month before legislative elections, the opposition fears the move will clear the way for long-serving President Faure Gnassingbe to remain in power indefinitely.Around 30 gendarmes armed with truncheons interrupted the conference, which had been called by opposition parties and civil society groups to address the change.The officers said the event at the ADDI opposition party headquarters in the capital Lome did not have the necessary authorisation, according to AFP journalists at the scene.Later, the head of the National Alliance for Change (ANC) opposition party Jean Pierre Fabre hit out against the reform at another press conference.”Enough is enough,” he said. “We are determined to take up the fight. We are going to take the battle to them.”David Dosseh, spokesman for the FCTD civil society coalition, called for “the population to mobilise to put an end to this travesty.” “This is a battle that will last for months,” he warned, urging the international community and West African bloc ECOWAS to “assume their responsibilities”.NGOs regularly criticise Togo for infringing human rights, and the opposition counts around a hundred political prisoners.”It’s unacceptable, the Togolese regime is allowing itself absolutely everything, having changed the constitution on the sly,” organiser and head of the Parti des Togolais (PT) Nathaniel Olympio told AFP.”By depriving the Togolese people of the right to choose their president through this constitutional coup, the regime has crossed a red line,” he said.”I call on the Togolese people to stand up and stop this disastrous plan.”- ‘Without debate’ – The change to the constitution, proposed by a group of lawmakers mostly from the Union for the Republic (UNIR) ruling party, was adopted almost unanimously.The president will be chosen “without debate” by lawmakers “for a single six-year term”, and not by the public, according to the new text.The president can currently serve a maximum of two five-year terms.The opposition boycotted Togo’s  last legislative elections in 2018 and denounced “irregularities” in the electoral census, but says it will take part in the upcoming polls.It is not yet known when the reform — approved with 89 votes in favour, one against and one abstention — will come into force. Gnassingbe has been power since 2005 and succeeded his father General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who seized power in a coup more than 50 years ago.In 2019, members of parliament revised the constitution to limit presidential terms to two, but it did not apply retrospectively, leaving Gnassingbe free to stand for the next two elections.